RSNA meeting focuses on keeping up -- not catching up -- with digital radiology department

November 29, 2004

The RSNA’s Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting Program provides an encyclopedia of clinical innovations, issues, and trends in the practice of radiology. This year’s 912- page edition is no different. What strikes a reader of this tome, even without the presence of a subject index to reinforce the point, is the number of courses focused on utilization and technology updates for the all-digital radiology department.

The RSNA's Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting Program provides an encyclopedia of clinical innovations, issues, and trends in the practice of radiology. This year's 912- page edition is no different. What strikes a reader of this tome, even without the presence of a subject index to reinforce the point, is the number of courses focused on utilization and technology updates for the all-digital radiology department.

The sheer quantity of refresher courses is so great that a radiologist or radiology professional could spend the entire conference attending pragmatic presentations on computed and digital radiography, computer-assisted diagnosis applications in diagnostic imaging, radiology information system integration, Integrating the Healthcare Enterprise implementation, PACS and PACS peripherals, and speech recognition. The term "refresher course" is a misnomer for these course topics. Attendees comment that they have signed up to keep up, not catch up. The faculty are the leading experts in these fields. The RSNA deserves to be commended for its program expansion.

RSNA '04 may mark the year in which program content truly divides into two categories: one focusing on clinical practice, discoveries, techniques, and innovation, and the other on radiology informatics in the broadest use of the term. Attendees at future RSNA meetings may opt to focus on the clinical or the technical, but not both. From this consultant's perspective, it may be wiser to dedicate one's time to either a clinical track or a technology track rather than try to do both. Now more than ever, radiologists need the technology-oriented courses to facilitate their transition into a digitally driven diagnostic imaging department.

It may be prudent for radiology practices and hospital diagnostic imaging departments to recognize that at least one person should be added to the RSNA-bound team whose assignment is to focus on radiology informatics. Too many radiology administrators state that they are forced by budgetary considerations to choose between attending the American Healthcare Radiology Administrators meeting or the RSNA meeting. In this decade of digital change, the investment in knowledge is as important as the millions invested in equipment. Radiologists also need this education.

The RSNA has done an admirable job in creating a syllabus of courses designed to assist radiologists in understanding, successfully adapting to, and seizing the opportunities offered by digital innovation. Two 2003 courses, one on making speech recognition work and the other a PACS acquisition and display update, are newly available from the RSNA Education Center. A multicourse symposium, Advances in Digital Radiology, is a newly published syllabus. Easily overlooked in the RSNA hubbub, these are inexpensive must-buys.

Launching RSNA '04 with a visit to the IHE exhibit seemed appropriate for a PACS consultant. The IHE booth's theme this year is "A Quality Connection." Ironically, a quality connection was lacking in McCormick Place on Sunday morning. Broadband network problems reinforced the reality that a rock-solid telecommunications infrastructure is critical for digital radiology departments.

However, the information exchange connectivity being demonstrated in the IHE booth includes five geographically separated and unrelated hospitals and involves ordering CT scans, image acquisition, postprocessing, and diagnostic interpretation. Each hospital performs a different task and transfers the information to the next. This is an impressive exercise, reflecting the not-so-distant future in which a patient's collective images will be globally and electronically accessible.

Right now, the way to transfer images from PACS to PACS is via CD or DVD. The brand-new IHE integration profile for Portable Data for Imaging (PDI) is being demonstrated by over 20 vendors in the technical exhibitions. Pick up an IHE CD at the entrances to the technical exhibitions and see for yourself. The transfer of a patient's records has forced many PACS-enabled departments to resort to film because of the lack of standardization for the export and import of data via disk.

The IHE PDI profile will change all that. For all its subtlety, the demonstration is impressive.

Ms. Keen is a PACS consultant with i.t. Communications. She can be reached at itcommckeen@earthlink.net.